Preparing For Recovery

I moved to Delray Beach just when efforts to revitalize the city were beginning to kick into gear.

The year was 1987, so I had just missed Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, an effort that served as an important precursor to the massive efforts that were about to be launched.

But I was there for Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, Visions 2005, Sharing for Excellence (which focused on the city’s schools) the Downtown Master Plan and a host of other efforts that created modern day Delray Beach, a three time All America City, that has earned national acclaim for its redevelopment efforts, successful downtown, events, culture and food scene.

It’s been quite a ride—turbulent at times, but joyous too.
Now in the midst of a pandemic I am reminded every time I drive down Atlantic Avenue about those early years when downtown was dead and buried in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

Delray came back as a result of careful planning, massive public investment, risky private investment and a playbook that included everything from a downtown tennis stadium and festivals to a focus on culture and a big bet on food and beverage as a driver of commerce and branding. A strong commitment to Community Policing was another indispensable tool. If people don’t feel safe, they simply won’t spend time or money in your city.

In a pandemic, most of those tools are largely off the table—- for now at least. So I wonder how we will fare in the short and long term.
Long term I think we will find a vaccine and effective treatments that will give us the confidence to venture out again and be among people.
That’s what downtowns do best if they are healthy. They bring us together.

But short term it may be a while before we see restaurants packed and feel comfortable enough to attend festivals with thousands of people.

Thanks to societal changes, retail doesn’t appear to be viable option especially in a high rent environment.
Pineapple Grove has done well as center of personal services and hopefully salons, gyms and the like can safely re-open soon.

We never quite had a huge office component downtown and one wonders where that sector will be in the wake of the coronavirus. Many companies are realizing they can effectively operate remotely and may not require the large offices they now occupy.

Still, there are opportunities at Atlantic Crossing and the IPic building to bring workers downtown.
In time, it will also be important to get anchors such as Old School Square and the Arts Garage up and running again.
The arts are a morale booster and an economic development engine.

I also think  there is  a great opportunity to introduce educational uses downtown and perhaps someday (post vaccine) that will be possible too.

Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we finally have a critical mass of hotel rooms after years of lacking capacity.
In time, if the hotels can stay alive, that sector will bounce back and be a critical piece of our economic recovery.
My belief is we need a short term survival plan because long term we can bounce back because the fundamentals are there. But it will be harder to bounce back if we lose too much of what we had prior to the pandemic.
What’s probably needed is a local city specific Marshall Plan.
Is that an overreaction? Maybe, but what we seem to be facing is an economic event unlike any we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.
So in my estimate, it will take big and bold thinking to restore a sustainable local economy that has the potential—if done right—to be better than pre-Coronavirus.
Tall order?
But we are starting with a decent foundation this time.
Back then, all we had were good bones and a lot of dreams.
A slew of visionaries made it happen then, we can do it again.


  1. Jim Grubb says

    Jeff, You are always on target. Your optimistic views are inspiring.

  2. Carl C. Carter says

    Hi Jeff,
    I have enjoyed reading many of your post and was moved previously to respond and provide prior history. My partner Tom Shoaf, Dr Monroe Farber, Paul Spiecher,and Ken Jacobson worked to bring Ed Foster to town to begin the Delray Beach Tennis Center. Circa 1972, when the ocean was chewing away A1A at Atlantic Ave and the mayor appointed a committee chaired by Bob Chapin. Wethat fashioned a beach restoration project that not only restored the beach but provided for funding by local, state and federal funds to continually restore our greatest asset, THE BEACH.. Ken Ellingsworth, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, almost single handedly administered to Chamber growth and projects like the all-volunteer Delray Affair, Christmas Parade, Downtown Development Authority and many other projects. He facilitated our AquaCrest Pool project and Bob Miller’s great baseball park. As you mentioned in the early 80s Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue task force brought Tom Lynch and many others into the civic service. . Dr Alperin and Dave Schmidt continued with the CRA and many many great volunteers and civic servants has brought us to the point where you ,Rita and many others continued the progress.
    Our great hope is that others will step up and continue to serve and protect our “Village by the Sea.”

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Dr, Carter I was really taken by your words. It’s really fun and interesting to see how mayors have tapped community knowledge to advance Delray. All of these projects and improvements don’t happen by accident, it takes vision, execution, expertise, staff, volunteers and investment to make things happen. Thank you for a great history lesson.

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